By Duncan Voice
World of Warcraft isn’t something that you can form an opinion on within a few hours, let alone a few days. Even after having played for five years, I’m still not quite sure if I love it, or if it has been a colossal waste of time. The third expansion Cataclysm recently saw its first major patch, fixing numerous bugs and balancing various aspects of gameplay. Now that the dust has settled, do the changes that Cataclysm brought about reinvigorate an old world, or break it beyond disrepair?
The titular cataclysm actually occurred in the days leading up to the game’s release. The dragon Deathwing, a fan favourite villain with a chronic case of heartburn, made his return with such ferocity that his very reappearance caused all manner of natural disasters. Most zones are now altered beyond recognition, largely for the better. Once barren deserts are sprinkled with jungles and lush oases, making the most of the ability to fly anywhere in the world and take in the sumptuous views from the skies. The new quests (3,000 of them!) not only inject a much needed sense of fun into the previously boring grind through the levels, but also reflect the growing political tensions between the game’s two factions.
Players choosing to level up one of the new races (Worgen and Goblin) or one of the new race/class combinations will be treated to a sumptuous, if brief, levelling experience. In comparison to the countless quests that had you killing a set number of monsters before, now players will find themselves abseiling down the sides of exploding buildings, donning rocket boots to incinerate zombies and even acting as quest givers themselves. Levelling up is a fast, incredibly enjoyable experience, soured only by a noticeable nosedive in quality when the time comes to progress through the previous expansions.
The new high-level zones are the pinnacle of Blizzard’s design and imagination, continuing the standard set during the initial 60 levels. Each zone offers an entirely different flavour whilst progressing through the additional 5 levels, and given the modest system requirements they can look quite stunning. The Indiana Jones themed zone of Uldum continues Blizzard’s habit of pop culture referencing, although the frequent, stuttering cutscenes soon become frustrating and only serve to highlight an ageing engine, along with creaking game mechanics.
There is plenty of content for players at the level cap to keep themselves busy for months, with heroic dungeons now requiring a healthy amount of teamwork, quick thinking and communication, whilst an abundance of end game raids give guilds plenty to work on. The first major content patch will soon introduce more options, with players able to revisit raids redesigned as five player dungeons. Guilds are now encouraged to work together too, care of a new levelling system that rewards cooperation. Any quests handed in count towards the guild experience level, meaning smaller guilds also benefit, albeit at a slower rate.
Competitive players are well catered for with new player-versus-player zones, as well as a new conquest mode that raises the bar for entry but offers greater rewards. The outdoor zone of Tol Barad was touted as the central hub for PVP activity, but much like Wintergrasp in Wrath of the Lich King, it has seen countless balancing tweaks whilst still failing to deliver on its initial hype.
Any childhood fantasies of becoming Indiana Jones are soon quelled thanks to the introduction of the archaeology profession. Scouring the world and digging up ancient artefacts and weapons sounds exciting, but in reality it involves little more than clicking around until you find a fragment, then repeating the process for the 27-odd hours it takes before you can begin to piece together powerful weapons and armour.
Cataclysm succeeds in ensuring that World of Warcraft remains millions of subscribers ahead of the competition. New players will no longer feel daunted thanks to a gentle learning curve and moreish quest design, whilst veterans will relish the opportunity to see how the old world has changed. Even so, four months after release there are still some glaring bugs to be found and the game engine itself is starting to creak along with some very questionable animation. In a market that is dominated by free-to-play titles, World of Warcraft is the only MMO that can still justify a subscription fee, but only just. Future expansions will need to truly innovate, as the king of the crop may finally be starting to outstay his welcome…
7 OUT OF 10
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